R. Smg. Tricheco

The submarine TRICHECO (2) (the same name was assigned to a previous boat) belonged to the class “SQUALO”. This class derived from and was an improvement on the preceding classes “PISANI” and “BANDIERA”, and was efficient and reliable and, as a matter of fact, brought to an end the experimental period of Italian submarine naval constructions.

The TRICHECO at sea.
(Photo Turrini)

The “SQUALO” class included four boats: SQUALO (2), NARVALO (2), DELFINO (2) and TRICHECO (2), all built by the C.R.D.A. shipyard of Monfalcone (Gorizia), between 1928 and 1931. The TRICHECO was laid down on November 10th, 1928, launched on September 11th, 1930. The same day, the vessel was delivered to the Regia Marina for what was to be a very unfortunate operational life which officially began on June 23rd, 1931.

Operational Life

On January 16th 1931, off Orsero (near Savona) the unit collided with a fishing boat and causing considerable damage. On November 3rd, 1933 an explosion aboard cause a fire which was promptly controlled. In 1934, the boat hit a crane causing considerable damage to the periscope.

From 1935 onward, the TRICHECO was redeployed in East Africa returning to the mainland two years later. During this period, the boat completed a 12 day mission is support of naval operations revolving around the Spanish Civil War. In 1938, the boat was transferred to Messina and in 1940 to Lero (Greece). Here the boat began war operations completing 13 patrols.

The 1st of October, the TRICHECO left for another war patrol along with the AMETISTA and GEMMA, in the area around the the Kassos Channel (East of the Island of Crete).

The area of the passage was divided into three sectors: north, center, and south – assigned in the same order to the GEMMA, AMETISTA, and TRICHECO. After two fruitless days, on the 3rd of October only the GEMMA was ordered to the east to patrol the area between Rhodes and Scarpanto (Karphatos) (to be more precise in the square defined by the Island of Seria and Cape Monolito (Rhodes), Cape Prosso (southernmost point of Rhodes), Cape Castello (southernmost point of the island of Scarpanto), until the evening of the 8th. It was precisely in this area that on the night of the 7th a tragedy took place.

The night of the 7th, the TRICHECO (Lieutenant Commander Alberto Avogadro di Cerrione), a day before completing its patrol, had left its assigned area south of the Island of Kassos because of a wounded person aboard, and it was navigating along the western coast of Scarpanto, thus in the area occupied by the GEMMA.

Due to a fatal mishap with radio communication, neither the GEMMA nor the TRICHECO were informed of each other’s movements. In addition, a message in cipher dated the 6th in which Leros, via SUPERMARINA, ordered the GEMMA to immediately return to base, was never transmitted by the central operating office. Around 1:15 on the 8th, the TRICHECO sighted a profile of a submarine and, unaware of the presence of an Italian boat in that area, and assuming that such a presence would have been signaled, believed it was an enemy submarine. This situation, with the equipment available at the time, did not leave time to attempt recognition: only the submarine that fires first survives.

Thus, around 1:21, the TRICHECO launched two torpedoes. The distance was close: impossible to miss the target. The GEMMA, hit midship, sank immediately in position 35 30’N, 27 18’E, three miles for 078 off Kero Panagia, not too distant from the City of Scarpanto. No one survived. The opposite could have taken place if the GEMMA had sighted the other submarine first. These are accidents that, unfortunately, take place in all wars and all Navies.

Anyway, such danger for the Italian Navy was very limited. As a matter of fact, Italian naval doctrine was based on the concept of “ambush war” and each boat was assigned a small square of sea from which it was absolutely not allowed to trespass, remaining in waiting for enemy ships. This tactic, inherited from the experience of WW I, proved unsuccessful.

The Germans, on the other hand, since the beginning adopted a method which we could describe as “guerre de corse”: the area assigned to each boat was relatively large and they would pursue ships. After a sighting, all the boats within reach were called to concentrate on the target (often a convoy), forming a “wolf pack”. Operating in this way, the risk of friendly fire was high, but the Germans took it into consideration.

On October 7th, 1941, under the command of Lieutenant Carlo Gandolfi, the Tricheco was approaching the base of Augusta (Sicily) when it became the object of an aerial attack by a British “Blenheim”. The gun battle that ensued caused damages to the enemy aircraft allowing the submarine to submerge.

On November 29th, 1941, under the command of Lieutenant Alberto Campanella, the Tricheco sighted an enemy formation and a cruiser was attacked with three torpedoes none of which reached the intended target.

On March 18th, 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Giovanni Console, the submarine was transferring from Augusta to Brindisi when, having almost reached its destination, was hit forward by a torpedo launched by the British submarine Upholder (Lt.Cdr. Malcolm David Wanklyn). Broken into two pieces, the vessel disappeared in a few seconds taking along the second in command, sub lieutenant Ermanno Tonti, 10 officers and 27 crew members, while the captain and a 2 other survivors were rescued by vessels from Brindisi.

The hull of the Tricheco was discovered by Stefano Maghelli at a depth of about 80 meters in 2005.